By NSW Irrigators’ Council

Over the last 35 years, the NSW Irrigators’ Council has worked tirelessly to protect irrigators’ rights to use water. While the issues the Council has been involved in have grown substantially since its humble beginnings in 1983, our work now expands beyond the borders of NSW and Australia.

Over the last six years, the Council has been invited to advise on several Australian water management issues and speak at international events, including in the United States, the United Kingdom and Israel to share our experiences and expertise in Australia’s water resource management, State and Federal water reform processes and water governance framework.

This year, our Policy Manager Stefanie Schulte had the opportunity to attend the 8th World Water Forum in Brasilia (Brazil) where she met and engaged with government officials, water resource professionals and industry experts on key water resource management and water security issues across the globe.

Over the five days in Brazil, Stefanie joined discussions on water governance; the use of smart technology to manage water resources; and, energy-food-water challenges as well as how to engage the next generation of water professionals through social media, online platforms and gaming.

Stefanie also represented the Council on an international panel, where she and Claire Miller, former manager policy strategy at Dairy Australia, spoke on the principles of Australia’s water allocation framework, demand management options and trade. Aside from discussing the necessary pre-conditions for Australia’s water markets, Claire and Stefanie also touched on some of the emerging regulatory and policy challenges for Australia’s water resource management. Both emphasised the need for strong regulatory frameworks underpinning the water allocation and trading regimes, and government management of trade transactions.

The panel session that Claire and Stefanie presented at was titled “Can water management and allocation systems lead to sustainable use of water?”, and was one of 95 sessions convened under nine Themes. This session under the Development theme brought together shared experiences in systems and technologies to allocate, regulate and efficiently manage water use by all stakeholders including industry and the environment.

Water markets, metering, licensing, centralized management, user pays and leveraging private investment are all being tried, in combination and alone, to achieve the rational and efficient sharing, management and use of water among competing stakeholders. The panellists debated the relative merits of various international water allocation regimes and teased out the local contexts in which each framework was established and is now administered.

Panellist Layla Lambiasi, from the Centre for Sustainability Studies of Fundação Getúlio, Vargas, Brazil, explained that water markets were among the options being explored in Brazil to address water scarcity, with Australia’s Murray-Darling Basin Plan among the international case studies informing local  policy. Markets were seen as legally feasible and technically desirable, but politically uncertain.

Wesley Gabrieli de Souza, from Brazil’s National Water Agency described the severe drought conditions that spread across Brazil from 2014 to 2016, and the challenges of financing water allocation decisions; ensuring the sustainable operation, maintenance and monitoring of the water infrastructure; and, managing conflicts around irrigation and water supply systems, investments in water use efficiency and lost profits.

Ju Hee Jeung from K-Water in South Korea, explained that South Korea’s water use and supply systems were now shifting from the post-World War II priority of basic use and development toward water  for economic growth, environmental protection and social development.

She showed how increasing domestic use was driving up overall water use in her country, even as agricultural use has declined since the turn of the Century. This was pushing South Korea to the limits of its water supply, despite enjoying higher than the global average rainfall. Several rivers had been closed to further water allocations, and systems were generally overallocated even with water rights holders using only 35% of their entitlement.ater  for economic growth, environmental protection and social development.

Finally, Anthony Akpan, from the Pan Africa Vision for the Environment based in Lagos, Nigeria, promoted the value of good governance at all levels, public and private, to improve quality of life, access to water, and protecting cultural and biological diversity.

In each of the case studies, it became clear that water allocation frameworks require careful planning, ongoing strategic investment and considerations of context specific environments to manage scarcity, competing interests and changing future water challenges.

Also, it was acknowledged that no water allocation system is yet sophisticated enough to warrant complacency on previous achievements or future reform processes. Room for improvement can be found everywhere, whether through smarter systems, better institutional design, improved stakeholder engagement or effective partnerships.

The final key messages from the Development Theme were that:

  • As a key water user, agriculture must increase its participation in water management discussions.
  • Land-energy-water can’t be managed/planned independently.
  • Water allocation must be done in a more equitable and inclusive way that can drive social and economic development.
  • An integrated approach urban-rural must be applied for water resources (fresh & groundwater) planning and management.
  • Assure that investments and policies in water infrastructure are done considering multi-objectives and sustainable allocations.

The panel discussion was tied closely into the overall World Water Forum’s theme: “Sharing Water”. As the Brazilian president declared at the opening ceremony, more than two billion people across the world are still without access to clean drinking water.

Coordinated and cooperative policy development is necessary to achieve an adequate access to water in each country while ensuring that water resources are used and managed sustainably for current and future generations in addition to providing for future economic growth and development.

This point was particularly important to the Brazilian president, whose country had just struggled through a severe water crisis.  Many years before the media warned of an approaching ‘Day Zero’ for Cape Town, South Africa, one of the largest cities in the southern hemisphere, São Paulo, nearly ran out of water.

In 2014, São Paulo found itself in the midst of the worst drought in its recorded history with less than 20 days’ water supply before taps would run dry. While extreme water restrictions, ad-hoc engineering fixes to the city’s ailing infrastructure and some rainfall averted a water catastrophe, the recent memory of the crisis is still very vivid when the Brazilian president.

Other global leaders expressed their views on the need for further investment in capturing and treating water, water efficiency projects and sharing best practice experiences around water management and water allocation – a task estimated to cost more than $US650 billion worldwide.

However, the call for future investment was not the only key message from the World Water Forum. Participants were reminded that we are likely heading towards a future marked by greater water scarcity and more frequent water crises.

As the recent report by the High-Level Panel on Water “Making Every Drop Count: An Agenda for Water Action” declared, parts of our planet today are suffering from either devastating drought or destructive droughts, increasing water stress that restrains social progress and economic development.

“Water is a matter of life – not just for our health, food security, energy production, jobs and cities but also for vital ecosystems.”

As such, the concept of sharing and recognising the legitimate uses of water was a strongly theme of this year’s World Water Forum with an urge to adjust our mindset from conflict to cooperation to reach sustainability.

Like the rest of the world, Australia remains a ‘work in progress’ when it comes to the management and allocation of water resources. While Australia has achieved a lot (both positive and negative), more work is ahead of us as we head toward the next World Water Forum in Senegal in 2021.



Footnote/ Explainer:

The World Water Forum is the world’s largest water-related event, organised under the umbrella of the World Water Council (WWC) which brings together a diverse set of stakeholders (400 institutions from 70 countries) interested in water.

The WWC mission is to “promote awareness, build political commitment and trigger action on critical water issues and to facilitate the efficient conservation, protection, development, planning and management and use of water in all its dimensions on an environmentally sustainable basis for the benefit of all”.

The WWC provides a platform to encourage debates and exchange experiences around water resources management from around the world. The WWC organises the World Water Forum every three years together with the respective host country and city. To date, there have been eight editions of the World Water Forum, the latest one in Brazil being the first that has been held in the Southern Hemisphere.